UK criticised around the world for 'shambolic' and 'negligent' coronavirus response

7 May 2020, 14:24

The UK's response to coronavirus has been questioned around the world
The UK's response to coronavirus has been questioned around the world. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK has been criticised by politicians around the world for its "shambolic" and "negligent" response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Politicians, health experts and political commentators from Turkey to Australia have condemned the UK's response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Britain's coronavirus-related death toll now stands at more than 30,000, making it the worst-hit country in Europe and the second-most impacted in the world, behind the US.

Donald Trump has used the UK as a cautionary example of how not to deal with the pandemic, while in Turkey the government's state news agency Anadolu called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson's response to be "questioned and examined."

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Elsewhere, former Australian High Commissioner to Britain Mike Rann told The Sydney Morning Herald Britain had "handled the earliest stages negligently."

He described the UK's response as "a shambles of mixed messaging, poor organisation and a complacent attitude that what was happening in Italy wouldn’t happen here."

The long-read editorial column, where the former high commissioner's comments were made, published on Sunday, had the headline: "'Biggest failure in a generation': Where did Britain go wrong?"

A similar piece in the New York Times on Monday was headlined: "The UK Needs a real Government, not Boris Johnson's puppet cabinet."

Dr Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet medical journal, told an Australian paper: "The handling of the Covid-19 crisis in the UK is the most serious science policy failure in a generation."

David Hunter, an Australian-educated professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Oxford, said the UK's model stood in stark contrast to Australia and New Zealand and should "not be followed."

However, he added that Britain's outbreak "may have happened anyway" and there is currently "no way to know" if a different approach would have changed the country's outcome.

Meanwhile, in the US, a CNN report explained "what went wrong" with the UK's initial handling of the crisis.

The televised package showed footage of packed Tube trains in the build-up to lockdown and Mr Johnson's comments about continuing to shake people's hands.

In Turkey, where the Anadolu news agency published a piece by a researcher in international politics at Istanbul University, Enes Guzel, the UK's former "herd immunity" consideration was also criticised.

"Even though the idea was not implemented and abandoned shortly thereafter, it still distracted and prevented the government from taking the necessary measures in a timely manner," Mr Guzel wrote.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also called the herd immunity approach a "death sentence."

"This idea of herd immunity, nobody's got herd immunity," Mr Morrison told an Australian radio station.

"The United States hasn't reached it, Sweden hasn't reached it. The UK hasn't reached it.

"You've got to get to about 60 per cent of your population.

"Even with all the death and devastation we've seen in all of those countries, they're nowhere near herd immunity."

Italy's media also criticised the situation in Britain, with one of Italy's oldest newspapers, the Corriere Della Serra, saying it was “like a nightmare from which you cannot awake."

One of New Zealand's top public health experts, Michael Baker, suggested countries like the UK displayed "Western arrogance" in how they responded to the virus.

“There was huge Western arrogance about how we responded to this infection, almost some strange sense of exceptionalism that it wouldn't do in our countries what it had done in Asia," he said.

"And the virus had other ideas."

Czech public health researcher Olga Löblová at Cambridge University said central Europeans used their delayed outbreak time to better prepare for the disease.

"There wasn’t any of the misguided exceptionalism we saw in the UK. No one [in central and eastern Europe] looked at Italy and said, 'that would never happen to us'."

However, public health experts in Britain and government ministers have repeatedly warned against international comparisons.

A UK government spokesperson said: “This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided by the best scientific advice.

“The government has been working day and night to battle coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed to protect our NHS and save lives. Herd immunity has never been a policy or goal.”

Nonetheless, global comparisons have been a frequent feature of the government's daily coronavirus press briefings.

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